May 13

Paris, A to Z


View from the dome of Sacre-Coeur

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been in Paris for two weeks with my good friend YP. Rather than give a recap in excruciating detail, I thought it would be fun to give the highlights from A to Z.

A is for Arts et Metiers

The Musee des Arts et Metiers was the first museum I visited during my stay. It gives a history of scientific and technological inventions, from primitive calculators all the way up to computers and robots. Another thing that was great about it was that it wasn’t crowded at all.

There were a bunch of class trips (including a half a dozen adorable first graders led by an even more adorable French guy) but the place was big enough that it never felt crowded.

B is for Baguette

In Paris, said YP’s friend C who happened to be there for work, there are certain things that you do, and if you don’t do them you’re crazy. You eat lunch at one or two, you have your pre-dinner apertif at 7, and you eat dinner at 9. You also buy a fresh baguette or two every day.

Everyone everywhere seemed to be carrying a baguette, even the grimy construction guys. It started as charming, then for some reason got on my nerves. I am French! I must have my baguette!

I had a couple of baguette sandwiches, and while they were tasty, the bread hurt the roof of my mouth, and I personally don’t want baguette sandwiches, or any kind of sandwich, every frigging day.

C is for Crypt

A recurring theme for our trip was crypts and cemeteries. We visited two cemeteries, Montparnasse and Pere Lachaise. The tombs were like telephone booths.


In terms of crypts, we went to three if you include the Catacombs. The other two were at the Pantheon and Sacre-Coeur.


“Stop! This here is the kingdom of the dead.”

The Catacombs are a series of dark, damp, narrow tunnels that lead to room upon room of piled up bones and skulls.


It was creepy and weird – ie, right up my alley.

Buried in the Pantheon crypt are quite a few famous people, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Louis Braille. In the Sacre-Coeur crypt I saw my first cephalophore, or headless saint.


D is for D’Orsay

During my first visit to the Musee D’Orsay, I thought I missed one wing. This time I realized I missed a lot more than that. The place is huge! And a former train station.

E is for Eurostar

As in taking the Eurostar train from Paris to London! YP really surprised me with his surprise.

F is for Froid

Springtime in Paris? Ha! It was in the 60s when we first got there, and on our last couple of days, it didn’t get much above 50. While we were waiting in line at the D’Orsay, it actually started to sleet.

G is for Game Night

The night before we went to London, YP taught me how to play a Greek card game called bastra. It was a lot of fun, and he totally kicked my ass. Then I showed him how to play Spit (I mostly remembered by muscle memory) and in that case I did the ass kicking.

H is for the High Line of Paris

On one of our first nights in Paris, we met up with YP’s friend C for dinner. C speaks French and knows Paris pretty well, and was kind enough to take us around. At one point we saw an elevated street with trees.

“I wonder what that is,” YP asked.

“Probably just where the train goes,” C said.

“But there are trees,” I said. “Like the High Line in New York.”

YP went sprinting up the stairs and I followed, and indeed it was a lot like the High Line!


It’s actually called the Promenade Plantee, or “tree-lined walkway,” and follows the old Vincennes railway.

It was lovely despite the graffiti.

I is for Inconvenience

I don’t know if things were actually inconvenient, but it seemed that way to me.

I ordered tickets online for the Pantheon, which you’d think would mean we could pick up the tickets, I dunno, at the Parntheon? But no. When we got there, we were told that we had to pick up the tickets elsewhere, an elsewhere that was a subway ride away, which we weren’t going to do in the pouring rain so we just bought tickets again.

What’s the point of ordering tickets online if you can’t pick them up at the place itself?

We also discovered that almost everything is closed on Sundays, including the market and most restaurants. I kept remembering what YP’s friend said about how there’s just a way to do things in Paris, and you do things that way. In big cities in America, it seems to be more about individuality and convenience.

J is for Jardin

We visited a couple, the Jardin des Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg. They were pretty, especially the fountains and statues, but I thought “jardin” was pushing it as they were more sand than grass.

K is for Kensington Gardens

You wanna talk gardens? Now this was a garden. The Kensington Gardens, which are connected with Hyde Park, were quite close to our hotel in London. They were lush and very green with a fountain full of interesting birds. We also walked into Hyde Park, and saw the Peter Pan statue, the Princess Diana memorial, and made our way around the Serpentine lake.

L is for Louvre

Which I didn’t go to. I know, I know, but after waiting in line for the Catacombs and the D’Orsay, I couldn’t bear the idea of another line and more crowds, especially in the cold and rain. Besides, I’ve been to the Louvre before.

Instead I went to the Carnavalet Museum. I thought I was going to the Carnival Arts Museum, and only realized my mix-up after I got back. That explains the lack of carnival stuff at the Carnavalet (duh). But I still loved it. The museum told the history of Paris through art, and since it was free, I splurged on the 5 euro audio tour.

M is for Metro Police

Unlike in San Francisco, we didn’t seem to need our subway tickets to leave the station. So I wasn’t very careful with them after I got on the train. One night I idly folded my ticket every which way. Then as we were about to leave the station, we were stopped by what we guessed were Metro police.

YP had a bunch of tickets, and they found one that read fine on their handheld scanner. Mine didn’t. I knew the bent ticket was the right one, but their machine couldn’t read it. I tried to explain this to the woman, but she just kept saying over and over in English, “Give me your ticket!” It’s like bitch, if I had the ticket, I’d have given it to you – oh, and guess what? I did!

Finally I just said, “Je n’ai pas mon billet,” I don’t have my ticket, and the woman alternately babbled in broken English and pointed at “30 Euro” on a sheet.

“What’s next?” YP asked. “What do we do now?”

More babbling. More pointing.

Maintenant?” I finally asked one of the times she pointed. 30 Euro now? She said yes. I paid it, got a receipt, and was allowed to leave.

Receipt for fine on Paris Metro.

Receipt for fine on Paris Metro.


It was pretty upsetting, if only because I didn’t know what was going on and actually thought I might go to jail.

I know these rules are set up to punish turnstile jumpers, but the thing was I had paid for a ticket. The only thing I did wrong was do origami with mine. I feel like in New York or San Francisco, they wouldn’t have given such a hard time to a tourist who had no bad intentions and simply didn’t know what they were doing.

N is for Nescafe

My first night I realized I had forgotten to bring my instant coffee. I panicked, knowing that I’d probably be up at some ungodly hour.

As expected I was wide awake at 4 AM. I had three hours until a cafe opened. I decided to make a last ditch effort to find coffee in the apartment we were borrowing. Using the flashlight app on the phone (so as not to wake YP sleeping in the living room), I rooted around in this stranger’s cabinet. Eureka! A jar of instant! Two cups of that and I was a happy camper.

That day I made sure to buy my own jar of the same brand (which I’d leave behind after I left) as well as some cappuccino, which was quite good, not too sweet. That instant coffee saved me every morning.

O is for Oeuf

Like French butter, French eggs were much better than eggs in America, especially ones we got from a “natural” (probably organic) store. Usually when I boil eggs, they smell sulphuric, but these smelled really good, and their yolks were bright yellow.

Luckily the eggs were so good because that’s all we cooked.

P is for Pho

The night that we stumbled on the Paris High Line, YP’s friend C took us to a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant, Paris Hanoi. I suspected there’d be good Vietnamese in Paris – since Vietnam was once a French colony – and I had just been saying to YP that I’d love some pho.

She warned us there’d be a long wait, but it wasn’t too bad. It seemed we just missed the rush. I got the beef pho and it was perfect, especially on that chilly night.

Q is for Quick

We saw lots of ads for this fast food restaurant (the chicken sandwich looked particularly delicious) but didn’t have a chance to try it. According to the reviews on Yelp, Quick is not very quick in terms of service, which seems typical of Paris. While the food comes out in a decent amount of time, everything else takes forever.

R is for Rillettes

When I ordered rillettes de sardines at my first meal in Paris, I had no idea what I was getting. I was picturing whole sardines. But what I got was so much better, basically the most delicious tuna salad you can imagine.

That night I also had risotto with peas and asparagus. Yum!


S is for Shakespeare and Company

This bookstore was a must-see for me. It was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and was one of the only places that would sell James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was banned in the U.S.

We went on a night there was reading that seemed interesting. Emphasis on “seemed.” Somehow YP and I both had the impression that author was someone who had spent time in prison, and he’d be talking about his memoir. But he wasn’t. I believe one of the characters in his novel was in prison, but it was hard to tell. Truly it seemed like he was talking about three different books. Then he thought it’d be awesome to have one of the sections read in French. Thanks.

It was quite crowded so we didn’t get to look around too much, but I was glad we went.

T is for Tate Britain

Have I mentioned how much I loved this museum of “500 years of British art”? Why yes, I have.

U is for Urban Bunny

Before our trip, YP had mentioned wearing this rabbit costume he has and taking pictures at the Eiffel Tower. By the time we were in Paris, I had forgotten all about this. But YP hadn’t.

As we walked to the tower from the Metro, he said, “There’s one more outfit I haven’t worn yet.” Then I remembered.

“Do you really have to do this?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said.

He went to a Gap to change, and when he emerged, the salesgirls just sort of looked bemused. That was basically everyone’s reactions: bemusement. One drunk guy shouted, “Monsieur, vous etes un lapin!” stating the obvious. Another guy, German I think, came up to us and asked where YP got the costume.

“I need one,” he said, “for a magic show.”

For some reason, that frightened me.

As we walked around, we kept hearing laughter and shouts in different languages. “A rabbit! A bunny! Le lapin!” Some people actually stopped and asked to take pictures with him. Kids’ reactions were either utter delight or open-mouthed stares like, “WHAT. THE. FUCK.”

On the tower itself, people, especially teenaged girls, went nuts. Lots of screaming and pictures being taken. A group of girls from Ireland took a particularly long time with the photos.

After a while I sort of forgot he was wearing the costume. I was more just freezing-ass cold.

Anyway, if you still haven’t had enough of Urban Bunny, you can see his pictures on Instagram.

V is for Vegetarian

Poor YP had a very hard time finding vegetarian food in Paris. Even Indian restaurants, which you’d think would have a lot of choices, had only one or two. At Paris Hanoi, every single dish had meat in it.

We found one vegetarian restaurant in Montmartre. The food was quite good. My soup was something like French onion, but lighter and without cheese, and our plates of vegetables were fresh and delicious. However, all of it took about an hour and a half.

London was another story. There seemed to be as many vegetarian options as there are in new York.

W is for Weather

Paris: chilly, rain, rain, rain, bright sun for short periods of time, rain, rain, rain, freezing-ass cold, sleet, rain, and more rain.

Did I mention the rain?

In London it didn’t rain at all.

X is for X-Ray Sheet

As in what the locksmith used to jimmy open the door when we locked ourselves out, but not before YP climbed on the goddamned roof to see if he could get in through a skylight (he could not).

At first we knocked on a neighbor’s door. By the names on the mailboxes, we knew the folks below us were Chinese, and if they didn’t speak English, I could speak to them in Mandarin. Assumptions, assumptions. The woman was Chinese but didn’t speak it. However, she did parle Anglais and told us about the key maker next door.

The key maker was a friendly older gentleman who very kindly tried to jimmy open the door with a piece of plastic. No luck. With his limited English and our limited French, it seemed he was telling us that no one in Paris would be able to help us, that whomever could was outside of Paris, but I think he was referring to a specific friend (who perhaps would have helped us for free) and instead helped us call a locksmith.

YP let me beg off while he waited. I thought the locksmith would have to drill off the doorknob but he used the said x-ray sheet and was able to get us in. However, it was not free. I won’t say how much but it probably would have been cheaper to go to the doctor and have an actual x-ray done.

Y is for YP

Who was kind enough to invite me along on his trip and did such a great job planning everything. Thanks, YP!

Z is for Zzzzs

Which were lacking for most of the trip but which I have been trying to make up for these past several days.

May 13

Last day in Paris + surprise revealed


The Seine at Night

Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about my entire trip after I get back, but this morning I’m having some quiet time while YP tackles the Louvre (which I visited my first time in Paris so I’m not missing out).

It’s been a great two weeks. The last time I was away for this long (outside of six months in China in the late ’90s) was in June 2009. I went to London for a library school class. We had lectures all day, Monday through Friday, plus site visits in London and day trips to Oxford and Cambridge. After class, I’d run off and visit all the museums (which are all free in London) and try to find cheap food. Although I got homesick toward the end, I had a wonderful time.

I might have mentioned that YP had a surprise planned for this trip. I had no idea what it was, except that it would last more than one day, I’d have to dress up, and it was something we’ve done before. I assumed it was a musical or play, and it was.

YP: “We’re seeing a musical version of The Bodyguard.”
Me: “Oh cool! Will it be in English?”
YP: “It will be in London.”

What?!? I was really excited to hear that. I love London and was glad we’d be taking a break from Paris and not being able to understand or communicate with people.

As expected London was lovely. We took the Eurostar, which while rather crowded was so fast, it didn’t matter. We sat across the aisle from two British ladies and a Ukrainian-American couple who jabbered the entire way. Luckily I had brought my noise-canceling headphones; YP wasn’t so lucky.


King’s Cross, London

London was a bit warmer than Paris and didn’t rain at all (it has rained almost every day in Paris). And oh yeah, English! Plus we were able to find a lot more vegetarian options for YP and just a wider diversity of food. (I’ve seen more than enough brasseries to last a lifetime.)

The afternoon we arrived we took a walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.


Peter Pan, Kensington Gardens

I noticed the “jardins” I saw in Paris were more sand than grass, while the parks in London are lush and green. I guess that’s what you get with all the rain.

After our walk, we grabbed some Indian food, which was mediocre but after nearly a week of mostly bread and cheese, was delicious. The show was also so-so. While the musical numbers were great – who can resist a Whitney Houston song? – the dialogue was really cheesy. Plus it couldn’t seem to make up its mind about its style. Was it all hip hop and urban, or gumshoe detective? But it was still totally enjoyable, even with technical glitches that literally stopped the show twice.

The next morning we got up early to go ride the London Eye. I’ve done it before but it’s always fun. After that we walked back across the Thames, passing Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and stopped in Pret for a quick lunch.

I know it’s pretty silly to go all the way to London and eat at Pret, which is in New York. However, 1) Pret is not in the Bay Area, and I miss it, 2) it’s quick, 3) it’s not too expensive, 4) the food is good, 5) London Pret food is different, and 6) London Pret has free wifi. As far as I’m concerned, Pret rules.

That afternoon we each had our own agendas: YP went shopping while I visited the Tate Britain, which I didn’t have a chance to see during my last visit. And it was only a 10 minute walk from where we were.

The Tate Britain is billed as “500 years of British art.” And indeed it was. The rooms were set up chronologically in 30 to 50 year increments. There was no audio tour but the placards gave good explanations (in English yay!). I was there for almost four hours and really freaking enjoyed myself. Of course I had to be immature and take this photo:


This work entitled “My Melons Bring the Serfs to the Yard.” (Tate Britain)

That night we met up with one of YP’s coworkers for a drink in a nice, relaxed bar and then a delicious dinner at a cute Thai place. After dinner, his friend, who had to work the next day, begged off, while we got another drink at a gay bar, which looked more like a traditional English pub.

We talked about if we liked Paris or London better, and we both agreed it was hard to say. London was a relief because of the language and culinary diversity. But of course Paris is an amazing city. YP said he probably has more of a natural affinity for Spanish culture (he lived in Spain during a high school summer), which made me realize I have more of a natural affinity for British culture. It makes sense: I love the language. It’s what I’m all about. I studied English literature and love lots of British stuff. Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, other British shows and movies.

Plus London seems more similar to New York. We saw lots of people in suits, and people were still getting off work long into the night. Not that working more is better, but it’s familiar. It’s what I do. In Paris I guess the work days are shorter.

I also feel less like a slob in London. In Paris everyone seems to dress well. It’s a city of hipsters. In London it seems to be more of a mix. YP’s friend C who we got to hang out with quite a bit in Paris put it really well: in Paris, there’s a certain way to do things, and if you don’t do it the way everyone else is, you’re crazy. Everyone has lunch between one and two for like two hours; everyone has their pre-dinner apertif at 7 and dinner at 9 (again for two hours); everyone carries home a fucking baguette every day.

It’s funny: while I found all the baguette carrying charming the first time I was here, this time I got sick of it. Look at me, I’m French and I have my fucking baguette.

(Bracing myself for the hate comments.)

Anyway, you’ll hear lots more about my trip over the next several days. Now I suppose I should battle the French rain and all these French people speaking French and get out of the apartment.